Learning About Japan Through the Films of Studio Ghibli

studio ghibli

Our family is a big fan of having what we call Movie Dinners. I normally employ them when Dad is working late and Mom is tired. Last week we managed to tie it into school by immersing ourselves in Japanese animation from Studio Ghibli. We did Movie Dinner 5 nights in a row, watching a different animated Ghibli film each night. Instead of me hiding out in the dining room with my laptop and a glass of wine, I stayed and watched the movies with the kids. We had seen most of these before (maybe numerous times) but we paid extra attention to the details of life depicted.

We were able to find most of these titles from our library or you can find them on Amazon.


My Neighbor Totoro is probably one of my favorite kids movies ever. My three year old and my nearly 6 year old love it too. It is the story of two sisters who move to the countryside with their father to live closer to the hospital where their mother is currently a patient. They end up meeting some spirits of the forest, including Totoro, who ends up becoming a protector of the sisters. My favorite part of this movie is the way the relationship of the sisters is depicted- how they delight in each other and annoy each other in equal measure. We love this one so much we own it.


510AKHGpCVLPonyo is Studio Ghibli’s loosely based version of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid.” Five year old Sosuke finds what he thinks is a goldfish trapped in a jar and he names her Ponyo. It turns out Ponyo is actually the daughter of a sea goddess and her desire to discover the world ends up upsetting the delicate balance of nature and triggers a huge storm. The two children then go on quite the adventure to restore the balance. My kids love this movie and find Ponyo to be hysterical.



51KXTH5HPHLPrincess Mononoke was the only film we watched that we had not seen before. I have to warn that there are some violent and gory parts in this movie. Greta’s review of it was that “it was scary, weird, exciting and awesome.” My kids aren’t bothered by much in movies, so we decided to try it out. If you have sensitive kids, I would recommend waiting until they are older. Set in medieval Japan, it tells the story of the struggle between man and nature. We all really enjoyed this movie and my three year old cried when we took it back to the library.



Kiki’s Delivery Service takes place in a fictionalized city that is a combination of a European and a Japanese city. It tells the story of Kiki, a young apprentice witch who spends her first year on her own in a new city. It is a sweet and gentle coming of age story.





Spirited Away is a lovely movie about a 10 year old girl who must try to save her parents by working in a ghost bathhouse. There are some scary bits, but my girls love watching the bravery of Chihiro.





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  1. Our Japan Month Long Study: An Overview | Books and Mudpies | 13th Feb 16

    […] week of Movie Dinners watching some of our favorites (and a new to us movie too). You can read this post to see what we […]

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